Help for first time dining planner and first time WDWer

This is my family’s (2 adults, 2 grandparents, 3 kids - 9, 7, 5) first trip to WDW this Christmas. We got the free standard dining plan with our room and we’re trying to figure out how to maximize it, not for food per se, but to gain access to parks and attractions which would otherwise be prohibited by the cost of the meal.

For example, it seems that if you eat at the Brown Derby (I think it’s called) at DHS for lunch or dinner you get priority seating at Fantasmic? I’ve also been told that certain breakfasts allow early entry to the parks? Are there other such opportunities that are available to dining pass holders?

I haven’t used the DDP but here’s my input (from two years of research, lol).

  1. You can use your TS credits to pay for a PPO breakfast. Depending on where you eat, though, this might not give you a good advantage. For example, using TS credits for CRT or CP in MK will likely not have you done with breakfast before park open. Using your QS credits instead (you don’t have to use one per person, your group can share) would be a good use to get a PPO BOG reservation to get you to PP or 7DMT before the RD crowd.
  2. In EP, GG is the PPO breakfast to get for Soarin’ advantage, Akershus is the one to get for FEA advantage.
  3. Fantasmic or ROL dining packages are included with 1 TS credit, but you do have to book them, not just show up and expect it to be included. Tiffins or Brown Derby are 2 credits and not a good use of a TS credit. Tusker House, Hollywood and Vine, or Mama Melrose are the good uses of those.
  4. In general using dining plan credits for Signature dining is not a good use of credits.

Hope this helps.


I would add that the dining packages for Fantasmic and ROL are a specific thing. If you just book lunch or dinner, you won’t get the vouchers. You have to book a Fantasmic Dining Package.

There are 3 possible restaurants, and all 3 meals are possible. The latest time though is around 2.5 or 3 hours before the show, so it would be an early dinner. Breakfast is only at H&V.

Here’s the link:

The other thing to say is about the PPO breakfasts. Be clear why you are doing them. Is it the early entry or is it the characters? Not all of them are character meals, BOG isn’t, but it is a beautiful restaurant so you may want to look round as well as eat.

You can get one at Tusker House at AK, but this will not get you any advantage, because of the way the opening works for Pandora.

At H&V it can get you to the Jedi Training sign-ups before breakfast, so you can still enjoy the character experience. But if you book Garden Grill at Epcot and want to get to Soarin before the RD crowd, then you may be rushing.

Personally, a character meal is for the characters, and I don’t do PPO breakfasts for that reason. Are your kids going to understand they might not be able to meet all the characters because you want to rush off to a ride early? YMMV?


You will find plenty of people who do utilize and encourage the PPO strategy. But I agree with @Nicky_S. I do not plan PPO character meals for this exact reason. No one in my party would want to miss a photo op with a character they love for the sake of a ride. (PPO = pre park open)

If we want to have a character breakfast in a park, I bring light breakfast on the go - cereal bars, nuts, juice boxes, etc. This buys a few good hours of park touring time and then we have a later breakfast - 10:30 or so. This allows us to make Rope Drop and tour the park the first 1-2 hours with (typically) the lowest waits of the day.

As far as Rope Drop (RD), I suggest arriving at each park 45min-1 hr before open. This allows for a few things - 1) seeing a new place for the first time is distracting - ESPECIALLY MK… Main Street, the hub, the castle… it can be breathtaking. 2) some parks will announce a 9am open, but start letting people in Early - my most recent experience with this was Epcot - 9 am official open, we arrived at 8:40 and they were already letting people in… that means, those people have already started headed toward their first attraction. In WDW, being on time could mean being “late”.

I know this is way more than you asked for, but those last 2 paragraphs are my top 2 newbie tips. I’ve been to WDW several times during Christmas. Where are you staying? And what are your trip dates? Have you thought about Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP)?


Totally agree with @Nicky_S about PPO meals - it’s a shame we can only “like” a post once.

I also want to add that PPO reservations are frequently the subject of posts where people are spiraling out of control because WDW has changed the park hours and their reservation is no longer PPO. I guarantee this will happen to you given that you are going at Christmas.


Brilliant point about Christmas time and PPO reservations!

If you are going the week before Christmas or the week after, you can almost guarantee MK will open at 7am for resort guests, other parks may open at 8am on many days. But those times will not officially change until just a few weeks ahead, and sometimes even closer.

I agree with all the points made above, about arriving early and riding rides as a priority, but admit that isn’t what my family did on our first day! LOL! Based on crowd calendars and the fact that I thought the 5 kids in my group (5 adults, 5 kids trip, 3 generations last Dec 2017) would never want to leave once we got to MK, we scheduled doing Epcot our first day so that it didn’t pale in comparison to MK (they’re all age 6 or under!). We did not have the dining plan and scheduled a PPO breakfast at Akershus. First, because we did want to start out our day with something special & kid-focused, two because we would be near Anna & Elsa meet & great and Frozen Ever After ride (FEA) when we finished breakfast and could hopefully hop right over without too much of a wait. We also liked it because the kids dressed up in character clothes for breakfast but then we took them off in favor of shorts.

This worked out very well for us but yes, I did stalk everywhere to make sure I was quickly aware if park opening hours changed.

Now - all that said - think about how your family might do best with your days. Will you be up early every day for rope drop (best plan) and go all day, not returning to your hotel until bedtime/parks close? Or will you need to take a mid-day rest back at your hotel? If you don’t plan to go back to your hotel, it might be nice to schedule table service (TS) meals at lunch that will then allow you to have the priority seating at the shows later that night - and yes, please note that you have to book these certain packages, you won’t automatically get them just by booking that restaurant at lunch.

Disney at Christmas is really wonderful - you’ll find so much advice on these boards! Keep reading & keep asking!

We are going the week before Xmas (12/15-12/21). We’re staying at the Caribbean.

For Epcot and DHS, we’ll probably be getting a late start because we’ll be jet lagged from flying a red-eye from CA. We may attempt PPO Akershus->Anna and Elsa on our second Epcot day (day 3 of the trip). I’d like to think we’d try to RD the other days, but realistically, it won’t happen unless we have some compelling reason like a restaurant reservation or Fast Pass (which is sort of a waste, because RD). We will most like get to most parks mid morning (say, 10) and stay all the way through closing, though it might make more sense to arrive early, take a midday break, and come back in the afternoon. How easy is it to return to the Caribbean from the parks. Or alternatively, when we went to DL a few years ago we took a midday break by walking over to the Grand Californian and just chilling in their lobby. Is that possible for WDW parks?

It would be the best use of your time to RD to get rides in, and then have “down time” either via a table service lunch inside the parks, or outside the parks, or going back to your hotel.

As far as going back to the Caribbean, I have not stayed there, but via the link from Touring Plans, they offer some great feedback in two sections about the bus service - scroll down to the transportation section AND almost all the way to the bottom to get an idea of travel time to and from the parks -

You could definitely decide to go to some nearby resorts for lunch/down time during the afternoon. MK makes this pretty easy - walk to CR, monorail to CR, Poly or GF, boat ride to WL. A boat ride to WL would be relaxing, and you will get to see the holiday decorations which are amazing! (We did a split stay here in Dec 2017 and loved it!) Plus, WL has a few lunch options - Roaring Fork, Whispering Canyon Cafe, Geyser Point. And, the resort feels very relaxing with so much nature around. The boats run pretty frequently back & forth to MK, so this would be something I’d definitely consider as a break.

At EP, you can also take the monorail out of the parks back to Poly, CR or GF. Or, you could walk out via the International Gateway to BoardWalk for some food & relaxation options. A lot really does depend on your family and their level of energy, but it’s definitely possible to leave the parks mid-day for a break and then come back, or go to a closer hotel and find a spot to rest. You will get the most bang out of the rides if you arrive at RD, but if you have a late night the evening before, that’s not always possible!

Did you just get the free dining plan that was offered with your room at Caribbean? Or did you upgrade? The free dining plan at moderates like Caribbean is the Quick Service plan which gives you two QS meals per day and not any Table Service meals. If you paid the difference to upgrade, you’ll get one QS and one TS meal each day. Which plan you have will make a big difference in your dining plans.

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Yes, we upgraded to standard dining plan, partly because we knew we’d need the break and partly because we wanted the better food. Retroactively, I also realize the packages for Fantasmic and ROL are a huge benefit for us.

We’ve done the Fantasmic package at Mama Melrose a couple of times and have the ROL package at Tusker House booked for this summer. It definitely took a bit of the stress out of getting to Fantasmic.

Having said that, I wouldn’t say it was the best use of a dining credit foodwise. This year we’re planning an early dinner at Epcot with the hopes of getting a fastpass for Fantasmic.

How does PPO work for World Showcase, specifically for akershus and F:EA and Anna and Elsa meet&greet?

If you do plan to try for a PPO ADR then consider making a second ADR for later in morning in case park times change and your first ADR is no longer PPO. Then cancel whichever one you don’t need. I learned the hard way with my BOG PPO ADR on my trip :disappointed:. Our GG PPO, however, was wonderful and we rode Soarin immediately following with no wait.
You may want to look at costs too. Breakfast ADRs do not tend to maximize your credits when you look at cost of meal per cost of credit. BOG is a good use of QS credit for breakfast though.

One character meal that you could have as a PPO and likely be done without feeling rushed is Garden Grill (giving you a Soarin’ advantage). They generally bring your food fairly quickly, the characters come around quickly and you can ask to prepay so you can leave when you are done eating. It’s also my favorite character meal both for characters and the food. I dream about the cinnamon bun bake.

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Does candlelight processional typically have dining packages? Are they worth it?

Yes, there are dining packages. Not sure if they’re worth it…that might depend on who you ask and where you eat. They are 2 TS credits on the dining plan.

Oh wow. Do you mean all the Candleligjt packages or all the dining/nighttime spectacular packages across all parks?

Candlelight packages are 2 TS credits. I don’t think there’s an Illuminations dining package, nor is there an HEA one. In AK for ROL dining package Tusker House is 1 TS credit, Tiffins is 2. In HS for Fantasmic dinner packages I think it’s Mama Melrose and Hollywood and Vine for 1 credit and Brown Derby for 2. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

I think the general consensus is that things that cost 2 credits on the dining plan are not worth it, money-wise. A credit is “worth” like $40. The packages cost around $60. So you’re “losing” money unless you planned expensive signatures or are on the Deluxe plan and planned it that way. However, everyone has different preferences and thinks different things are “worth” it!

Despite being 2 credits on the dining plan, I would say the Candlelight Processional packages are definitely worth it.

Unless of course you want to spend 3 hours lining up hoping to get in. For the really popular narrators, you could see longer waits, 4 hours for NPH is not unheard of.

I would bite the bullet and get a dining package if I were you.